Wednesday, 20 July 2016

BRAPA Special - Campaign for a Smaller Good Beer Guide

I'd like to go to the next CAMRA AGM and pass a motion.  And when I've done that, I'll wipe my bottom, pull my trousers up, take to the stand, and ask a question.

And that question would be "Can we reduce the size and weight of the Good Beer Guide?"  I can hear the dissenting voices from the letters page of "What's Brewing?" already - "we should be tackling beer tax, ACV's, lobbying the government, we don't have time for such irrelevance".  But what the humourless, self important campaign chumps need to realise, if CAMRA can't keep it's own book in order, how can it ever hope to influence external sources?

I write this blog fairly tongue-in-cheek but as a pub traveller, being weighed down by this increasingly hefty tome is not appreciated when touring the South West Buckinghamshire countryside on foot, and I'm sure that pub ticking legends like Martin Taylor and Duncan Mackay would sympathise.

Compare the current 2016 GBG to the 1982 one (being a geek, I re-bought it for fun!) and the difference is stark.  235 pages in the 1982 Guide, a whopping 1016 in the current edition.  You might argue "well real ale has come along way since then, there are bound to be lots more pubs listed" but this isn't true.  6,000 pubs in the 1982 edition, a more quality controlled 4,500 in the current one.

So why has it burgeoned in size then?   It's the almost 300 pages dedicated to breweries that seems most needless.  Pub Curmudgeon agrees with this, and so too does an unknown man named Peter.  In this day of "social media at the touch of a button", is it really necessary to include such information?  If you care enough, Google it.  Plus, it is all contained within the excellent Good Beer Guide Smartphone App.  Keep that as the place where this additional information is stored.

But I don't want to talk myself out of a paper based GBG altogether, it is my bible at the end of the day....

You could also decrease the number of GBG pubs from 4,500 to say, 4,000, disregarding those pubs which put diners before drinkers, and those clubs which are unwelcoming to CAMRA goers (it rhymes with Pumice Stone).  It'd be nice especially if CAMRA took a stand on the former, sadly I fear there's a lot that could be removed as a consequence.

Don't think I'm just trying to make my "pub ticking" life easier, I promise that would merely be a happy by-product of reducing the numbers.  Honest!

No, I actually think the main 'trimming' of the GBG could be done in the pub descriptions.  Back in 1982, you'd get juicy one line descriptions like "Awesome view of the viaduct from the outdoor gents" (Crown, Stockport) "A gem in an industrial area" (Whalebone, Hull) and "Churchill towers over the customers" (Crown & Kettle, Manchester).  Combine that with the symbols, sketchy opening hours, and a vague list of the beers available, what more do you need to know?

Nowadays, you get chapter and verse on every flippin' entry.  I recently went to a pub which told me (amongst many other things) that horses get their hay and water for free.  But how many people bring horses to the pub?  How many horses read the GBG?

So, I propose a 20 word limit on GBG pub descriptions.  And an overall page limit of 300.  Revert it to the kind of Guide you can slot under your arm and trot down a Shropshire country lane with, in search of a pub with the description "No-one's ever been here, but if you can be arsed, it might be good".

To finish with, a quiz.  See if you can match the pub to my revised GBG description (I've chosen pubs I found a bit more traumatic for comedy effect).  Good luck.


a.  Jeremy Kyle themed scroat-hole.  Look out for ghost of Jade Goody.  Nice breakfasts.
b. You can piss in a store cupboard at this Monday to Wednesday ale free outlet.
c.  Self publicising twats run the third best pub in a small town.  Ask for Best Bitter.
d. An apt name at £3.60 a pint in overrated tourist village.  Don't fall off the roof.
e. Pretentious toss house.  Expect hipsters to be given preference.  Pomegranate on menu.
f.  Quantity trumps quality at this sticky tabled student shite hole.  Won an award once.
g.  If you are CAMRA scum, don't even try and enter the lounge you worthless loser.
h. Here for a drink?  Stand up and make way for imaginary diners.  The pub stairs look comfy.
i. Young Mums, twilds and buggies dominate.  Beer reassuringly warm like a liquefied human organ.


1.  Arden Arms, Stockport
2.  Tap on the Line, Kew
3.  Royal British Legion Club, Penistone
4.  Rook & Gaskill, York
5.  Crown & Shuttle, Spitalfields
6.  Bear, Maidenhead
7.  Butcher's Arms, Sunderland
8.  Boltmakers, Keighley
9.  Fleece, Haworth

Hope you got them all right, let me know, you might win a prize.



  1. Quite brilliant, which you can take two ways.

    I'm still working on the quiz, think Penistone RBL is the pretentious toss house. Clues would help.

  2. 1h

    I don't know who Jeremy Kyle or Jade Goody are so a is a struggle, I have used a bit of elimination (ie I answered all of the questions and was left with a pub and a description).

    I think the most pointless part of the GBG is the section before Bedfordshire, which is primarily magazine articles that for some reason are in the book. The inside from cover should be a key to the symbols, page 1 should be Ampthill onwards.

    Whilst in a good beer guide it is logical to show a list of the real ales, I don't understand the need to have both a breweries section and a beers section. These could easily be merged.

    Being a Good Beer Guide, my opinion is that all places that serve good beer should be included, however if somewhere refuses to allow CAMRA members to check this then their beer is unverifiable so they can't possibly go in.

    1. Well done Tom, you win. Sadly, you don't qualify for a prize due to outstanding prediction league debts but very well deduced!

      I nearly mentioned the early articles bit but as it's not too many pages, thought it might be a bit churlish. But yes, they belong in magazines and you might know I have renumbered the pages in the way you say.

      I think the beers are listed under the brewery section so one and the same, but there is an additional 'directory' with the beers in alphabetical order, also pointless.

    2. Please may I enquire as to what my outstanding debts are? I have a personal policy of not entering debt. If I pay off whatever these debts are do I become eligible for a prize? Is interest applied? Are the bailiffs likely to come knocking?

      I think I may have got the name of the directory wrong in my head, either that or it has been renamed. On the subject, can we get rid of the tasting notes, or reduce them to be just style and points of note, with a brief summary, something like:
      Peacock's Best Fowl - bitter, variable standard

  3. Agreed - I'll vote for your motion!

  4. Works for me, would be easier to put together for a start, time to print would be shorter and it might be almost current by the time it came out. BTW, I've been to that pub in Shropshire, and it was good. But it's only open every other Tuesday evening, during the summer.

    1. You are talking about the mythical pub in the bowels of Stiperstones rather than the Anchor, Anchor I hope !

    2. An even more difficult Shropshire pub? Crikey. Yes good point Reidy on the whole "entries decided a year or so before GBG comes out" issue. Never understood that, surely it's in CAMRA's interests to keep it as current as possible.

    3. It's six months, actually, although you would think with electronic publishing the timescale could be shortened from when it was all done on bits of paper.

  5. It took me 35 years, and the reviva of interest in the Tour de France, to understand the lyrics to Anita Ward's 1979 chart-topper. I've only just got the bit in Paragraph 1 about wiping your bottom. Such hidden depths.

  6. It's the hidden depths you need to worry about most, so make sure you wipe properly

  7. Realistically I think people these days expect more than a pithy one line description of the pubs in the GBG (or any guide for that matter) so that idea's a complete non-starter.

    It's the brewery section that's got out of hand really. When the GBG first came out the idea of listing all of the breweries and their core range beers (mind you back then they really only had a core range) was a good one. However in recent years it's all got out of hand. I think there should be an on-line brewery guide and the brewery section in the GBG reduced to about a one or two line entry for each brewery. That would certainly chop out about 250 pages and make it much more manageable.

    1. Well the GBG description idea was always a bit of a pipe dream (sadly for me). But it does beg the question when it changed from one liner to huge paragraph and why.

      I looked at a 2012 one on Saturday, even this was only 800 pages so it seems to be growing arms n legs! But 2041, who knows what I will be lugging around?

      Yes, they could just have brewery, address, whether they do tours and leave it at that.

  8. There's no need to talk at the members' weekend, or get any motions passed. Instead, please send your ideas to me!

    I'd be very grateful for people to email me their ideas about how to improve the Guide. They will all get considered.

    The GBG Pub description length was increased as people had written in and asked for more information on pubs!

    Alexander Wright
    National Director – Publishing
    Campaign For Real Ale

  9. Thanks Alexander, I will definitely send an email.

    I guess you can't please everyone but think there is a strong case for bringing it down from 1,000 to 700 pages by removing the breweries section which could perhaps be reserved for the online edition.

    Harder to limit the number of words, I like the mystery of a briefer cryptic one liner, but I guess for most, the more info the better!